BEIJING • The Chinese authorities and the World Health Organisation (WHO) say a new strain of coronavirus is behind the outbreak of pneumonia in China's central city of Wuhan, which has erupted just ahead of the Chinese New Year, the country's biggest festival.
Health officials say the strain does not appear as lethal as some other strains of coronavirus such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome or Sars, which killed nearly 800 people worldwide during a 2002/2003 outbreak that also originated in China.
As of yesterday, there were 65 confirmed cases of patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus. All patients were either Wuhan residents or people who recently went to the city. Their symptoms included fever, cough and difficulty in breathing.
Of the 62 patients in Wuhan itself, two have died and 19 have been discharged.
Thailand has also reported two confirmed cases of the pneumonia, both of whom were Chinese tourists from Wuhan. Japan has also confirmed one case of a Japanese citizen who visited Wuhan.
LITTLE KNOWN ABOUT VIRUS
The Chinese authorities say that the outbreak is strongly linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, but some patients diagnosed with the new coronavirus deny exposure to this market.
Health officials say there is no clear evidence that the virus spreads easily from one person to another, but they cannot completely rule out the possibility of human-to-human transmission.
The Wuhan municipal authorities released information about a married couple who contracted the virus last Wednesday. The husband, who got sick first, worked at the market but the wife denied any exposure to the market in question.
The authorities did not explicitly state whether this was a case of human-to-human transmission.
There is no vaccine for the new virus. Symptoms include fever, difficulty in breathing as well as pneumonic infiltrates in the lungs.
The Chinese authorities have stepped up monitoring and disinfection efforts ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday later this week, when many of the country's 1.4 billion people will travel domestically and overseas.
The airport authorities in the United States as well as many Asian countries, including Japan, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea, have stepped up screening of passengers from Wuhan.
The WHO sent directives to hospitals around the world on infection prevention and control. But it has advised against travel or trade restrictions based on available information.
What the affected city is doing
BEIJING • The health authorities have said that they cannot rule out the possibility of limited human transmission. Wuhan Deputy Mayor ChenYanxin said the city is leaving nothing to chance and taking various steps to control the spread of the disease.
Wuhan officials said they are screening all travellers in the central Chinese transport hub and monitoring all those who have had close contact with confirmed patients.
An inter-departmental task force has also been set up to manage the outbreak.
All markets selling food and live animals are being disinfected, with the sale of live poultry prohibited. The government is also cracking down on the wildlife trade - markets in the city also sell animals caught in the wild, considered a delicacy in China.
"Non-essential" mass gatherings during the Chinese New Year are being discouraged and densely populated residential areas will be inspected by public health officials.
'PATRIOTIC HEALTH CAMPAIGNS'
Local officials on Jan 12 launched a three-month campaign with the theme "Healing the environment, cleaning homes and welcoming the festival" to encourage residents to practise better hygiene and healthier lifestyles.